For Children at Christmas

London Portrait Magazine — November 1983

For me, one of the delights of being a 35 year old bachelor, is other people's children. With them in mind I thought I would look at traditional Christmas presents, both for them and the child in all of us.

By Christopher Long

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I began my quest at Tiger Tiger, 219 King's Road, SW3. Apart from being a joyful place to visit, they claim to have presents from 2p to £635! Between these prices are satin clowns 38" high at £31.40 and bendy, cloth Stupsi dolls from Germany – which go into the washing machine – and cost £24.65. Beautifully made solid wooden toys are also a speciality, along with brightly painted wooden soldier nut-crackers at £6.50. Wooden musical 'roundabout' boxes from Germany and France from £16.00. The hand-made wooden cars, boats, planes and trains are all made in England, and range from £3.00 to £15.

In the 2p upwards category are stocking-fillers such as smelly rubbers, peculiar pens and a fantastic range of party items. At the other extreme are rocking horses which really look like rocking horses from £167 to £490. But all I want for Christmas is the life-size Tiger in the window – a snip at £635 – if you can persuade the shop to part with it!

Speaking of stuffed animals, I hesitate to say that you should go to Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, W1, if you want to get stuffed. But, in their small toy department, stuffed creatures of all shapes and sizes should appeal to little girls from age 7 to 70.

Whole families of Rice Mice – made of fabric and lace, stuffed with rice – are enchanting, they are priced at £4.00-£8.00 per mouse. Feathered owls dressed up as doctors, lawyers, etc., make rather more expensive and adult toys at £36.80 each. Top of the bill at Fortnums is ageless Paddington Bear, who comes to life as a glove-puppet at £7.50, stuffed with beans and a little larger at £9.75, and as a junior bear at £14.00. As a fully grown bear he costs £161.00.

Selfridges, in Oxford Street, will undoubtedly claim that their Paddington Bears are just as good. So much so that Paddington is the star attraction in their Christmas Grotto in the specially enlarged toy department. Father Christmas will also be there. The Father Christmas! Selfridges were horrified that there could be impostors anywhere else. Their selection of well-known brand names and huge choice defies description. Well worth a visit!

Barkers of Kensington, have an excellent selection of lower-priced toys. For 3-4 year olds there is a transparent case containing brightly coloured letters of the alphabet, or numbers, at £5.95. For children of 6 plus, the Fisher Price Sunshine Mobile is good value at £5.95. The kit consists of five plastic transparent models, which can be coloured with 11 tubes of Stay Bright colours, and linked together with the materials supplied.

Like most other shops and stores, Barkers have a selection of the very imaginative Galt Toys range for children aged 4-14. One example is their Paper Collage – a box full of gummed shapes, glossy papers, tissue circles and adhesive stars, which can all be creatively applied to a matt paper board, price £6.95. The excellent Galt Toys range, along with many others, can also be found at Peter Jones, the Army & Navy, the Games Centre in Oxford Street and Young World in Kensington High Street, W.8.

Barkers are also good for construction kits, too. Airfix model aircraft in 'The Empire Strikes Back' range are £9.75.

Naturally British, 13 New Row, is an excellent excuse for a visit to Covent Garden. Unashamedly traditional, they offer hobby-horses at £29.45; a large selection of soft toys; a fabulous rocking-horse by Relco at £608.00 and, most original of all, a range of old English pub games such as solitaire, 16 Bandits and Saxon Maze, all hand made in elm at £5.95.

Another stop on the toy trail must be Laffeaty's, 345 King's Road. Courteous, helpful and old-fashioned in the nicest sense, they are an old family business famed for their bicycles. They have BMX bicycles for boys at £89.95-£149.94, but also recommend a 1/10th scale radio controlled Toyota truck at £126.00, or a similar Mini Cooper at £26.25.

Their wooden tool sets are £8.99; electronic space guns with light and sound (to drive alien parents mad) at £6.15 and a Young Scientist Microscope (750 mag.) complete with slides at £29.50. They have a 1911 San Francisco Fire Engine Kit at £21.00. For girls, they suggest knitting, embroidery and tapestry sets at £1.85; farmyard stencils at £5.49l; play make-up (safe and non-toxic) from 79p to £1.39 and dolls, dolls, dolls... plus BMX bicycles, I suppose!

Girls probably do rather better at Dragons, 23 Walton Street, SW3. They have a delightful selection of very original painted furniture and soft furnishings for nurseries and young bedrooms. A 4" high Granddaughter Clock costs £160. A pretty, kick-and-slam-proof toy box with its owner's name on it, £85. The range of hand-painted items, from beds to dressing sets, is extensive, expensive but superb.

One shop that must be on everyone's list is Frog Hollow, 15 Victoria Grove, W8. They too are stockists for the all-winning, all-washable Stupsi doll, which should put Barbie's nose out of joint at £21.27. Personalised jumpers begin at £18.50; personalised bath towels are £16.50; a hunk of luscious Droste chocolate, in letters of the alphabet, is 80p. For educational toys suitable for kids from infancy to 5 years, visit Toddler Toys, 4 Harriet Street, SW1. They have toys from 20 different countries; prices from 30p to £120.

Odd and unusual items are always welcome. Hippo Hall, 65 Pimlico Road, SW1, will make up your child's name in animal alphabet characters in a slim gold frame, for £13.75. Dickins & Jones of Regent Street have a huge toy selection but also offer children's wall-clocks from £19.95; Special Agent pens with invisible ink at 74p; and the inevitable Whoopee cushion at 60p.

New games and puzzles are endless, of course. If you don't fall back on good old Scrabble and Monopoly, look out for Jump Off at Hamleys, Regent Street, W1, London's biggest and best toy-shop of all. It reproduces all the thrills and spills of show-jumping at just £8.99 – or so they say! Meanwhile, the people who brought us the brilliant one-rule game, Continuo last year (£1.99 from W.H. Smith and Menzies), have brought out two new games to tease the brain: Quadwrangle, a dice and board game at £4.95 and Quizwrangle at £11.95. Another new game with a breath of fresh country air is Farming – a sort of agricultural Monopoly – at £8.50. It could become a classic.

Bluebird Toys have some winners this Christmas. I know at least a dozen kids who would give a week's supply of sweets for a Snoopy Chair – ideal for those aged 2-7. Price £14.50 form Hamleys. Budding young male and female grocers might like the Bluebird Supermarket, £16.75 at Fenwicks, or the Sweet Shop & Mini-Market, £8.50 from Debenhams.

The Mini-Ted range in the Children's Department at Simpson's Piccadilly have some good-looking jogging suits for boys and girls. I also fancied the jogging suits from Absorba for kids from 1-4 years. They are about £22.35, in red and beige, and available at Harrods. Equally smart separates for boys and girls from New Man at Simpson's Piccadilly, and Bip, Sloane Street, SW3 and Duke Street, W1. Kids take such and interest in fashion nowadays. So, a gift of some trendy gear is a wise choice.

If you are looking for an unusual present for an animal loving child, The Zoological Society of London has come up with an Animal Adoption Scheme. For £30 a year, adopters will not only be helping to take care of an animal, but they will also receive a Certificate of Adoption (dated 25 December), a photo of 'their' animal, free entrance to the Zoo and their name displayed on a plaque on or near the animal's enclosure.

Some exotic suggestions include a Polar Bear, Reindeer or Penguin. Of course, you could always choose a more commonplace animal, such as a camel or farmyard creature. Further information from the Animal Adoption Office, London Zoo, 722 3333.

If you're still stuck for ideas, all I can do is point you in the direction of Harrods, where they have just opened a huge new toy department, which again defies description. It has just about everything... except that Tiger, which is all I really want for Christmas!


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© (1983) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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